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  • Writer's pictureEmilie Button

The Hitchhiking Nightmare: A Story of Sexual Abuse and How I Healed

Warning: Strong adult themes below.***Author’s Note: I believe it’s important to share some of our darkness sometimes—to heal us, to heal others, and mostly to regain personal power over the shadow of these memories. I wrote this with the hope of empowering other women in similar situations and bringing awareness to a world issue that needs to be brought to light.**

I woke in the rainforest of Kuranda by the cry of the cockatoo living in the tree casting shade over my caravan. I felt groggy, my head spinning like on a morning of a massive hangover. But I went to bed at nine p.m. the previous night, organic-fed and sober as a monk. I owe a great deal to that bird.

As I opened my eyes, I saw my caravan full of smoke. I got out of there in a heartbeat and realized the incredible mess/luck I was in. It was cold when I went to bed the night before, so I turned the oven on and left its door open to warm the place—and of course, I fell asleep. After a few hours, the gas line had gotten too hot and caught fire on the outside of the van. Slowly, gas and smoke started to fill the air. I packed my stuff the same day and decided to hitchhike up to northern Australia, where the weather doesn’t require oven heating for survival.

I love hitchhiking.

I’ve met so many beautiful and generous souls on my journey. I embarked on this trip with the same enthusiasm as I always do. I wasn’t waiting more than 10 minutes by the side of the road when a truck pulled over. “Where’re you going?” asked the really cute driver. “Anywhere north,” I answered. “Alright come up in, I’m driving that way.” “Sweet, thanks, I’m Emilie by the way!” “I’m Jack, nice to meet you.”

And the ride began. We had a great time, shared many common interests, listened to awesome music, and went swimming in some beautiful waterfalls. “It’s gonna get dark fast after I drop you, would you like to crash at my place? I could drop you back on the highway tomorrow.” “Yeah, I’d like that,’’ I answered, thinking I wouldn’t mind sleeping on the couch. We slowed down, and the truck turned onto a dirt road.

We kept going for a while, getting deeper into the forest, and finally arrived at our destination. As soon as I stepped into the house, he offered me some of his homemade vodka, which I refused. Raw, warm vodka just felt kind of wrong to me, unless you’re a bit of an alcoholic—or a straight-up pirate. Glass after glass, the good vibe I felt in the truck started to fade away. The drunker he got, the ruder he became. He made a few sexual comments about the way my pants were shaping my legs and butt. How every woman should go braless as I did. I just wanted to walk out of there, but I was in the middle of nowhere.

I asked him if there was a place for me to go and crash for the night, ’cause I was exhausted. He took me to my room, and I got into bed, relieved to be away from the weird energy that was building up. One minute later, there was a knock at my door. The knock didn’t wait for an answer. Jack let himself in, walked across the room to where I was lying in bed. “Can I come and cuddle with you?” he asked. “No, I’m going to pass. I’m pretty tired.” “Oh, come on, I just want to cuddle a bit.” And then there he was, in my bed, forcing his body against mine. He was holding me tight; I couldn’t get out of his grasp.

I felt terrorized.

My mind was racing. So was my heart. What to do now? Hit him? What if he got angry and things escalated? It was happening so fast; one second, I was about to go to sleep, and now here I was, trapped in some stranger’s arms as he imposed himself in my personal space. So, I asked him again to get out. But he ignored me. He grabbed me tighter.

I could feel his erection rubbing between my legs, his loaded alcohol breath in the back of my neck, and his hand going down my pants. I felt like vomiting. I tried to push him away and turn around but he put his mouth on mine. His wet, disgusting numb mouth. I panicked and screamed at him. To my surprise, he stood up and left. I laid there in shock, feeling vulnerable. A few minutes later, I heard the horrific knocking sounds again. And once more, it did not wait for me to respond; Jack let himself back in. The look in his eye was a strange mix of anger and excitement. That look froze my blood. I wanted to yell at him to leave, but my voice was failing me.

I wanted to get up and face him, but my body failed me. He came forward and sat on top of me, pinning me down with his hands and said, “I just want to massage your boobs, after that, I will let you sleep. You owe me that.” You owe me that… He ripped my tank top off, and I just lay there, like a lifeless doll looking away from the madness growing in his eyes, waiting for it to be over. My body was tense to a point where it hurt. He started rubbing himself on me again, and then my brain recovered some sense of processing and I regained the use of my voice and told him to leave. He smiled in a nasty way, stood up, and walked out.

I lay there, waiting for the sun to rise, to bring some light on the growing feeling of blackness swamping over me. What if he comes back? And then what about the morning? I will be dependent on him to get out of here. The thought made me sick. I luckily didn’t need to ask him anything. I heard a truck arrive in the early morning. It was a friend of his picking up some stuff, and I asked him for a ride to the closest town. This event brought me to a level of distress previously unknown to me.

Firstly, I felt ashamed, because I somehow felt guilty and responsible for what happened in the lost house. Responsible for not wearing a bra and having yoga pants on that got him sexually interested in my body, for having been passive the second time he came in my room. Responsible, especially, for having been attracted to him in the first place. And this is what sent me into an anxiety/depression spiral that would last half a year. For months, my life consisted of working 50 hours a week and spending the remainder of my time mostly hidden in my room, lost in the Harry Potter books, using J.K. Rowling’s magical universe to try to forget my own reality.

I would be stressed around men; I would be uncomfortable with any type of attention and would get tense when people touched me.

Mostly, I felt like I wasn’t myself anymore. I wasn’t all the things I thought I was for all those years. This positive image of a strong, outgoing, smart and intuitive woman. I was left with this weak version of myself to look at in the mirror. I did function, but I was a real mess on the inside. I had no confidence in who I was. I lived with a great deal of pain in my heart until I couldn’t bear it anymore. That’s when I decided to get help. I went to the emergency room, saw a doctor, broke into tears for 10 minutes in her office before I could start telling her what was wrong with me.

She prescribed me anti-anxiety pills and sent me back home with my turmoil. In my case, those did not help. If anything, they made it worse. They numbed me to a point where I was sleeping 12 to 14 hours a day. Yeah, I felt less pain, but I also felt nothing at all. I stopped the pills cold turkey and got some emotional support instead. I decided to talk about it and opened up to a close friend.

It came out something like, “I’m experiencing anxiety for a few months now ’cause of something that happened when I was hitchhiking. I wasn’t raped or anything that bad but…” and I went on with my story. It was so hard to say it out loud because hearing myself, I relived that moment. I always thought that if I was ever abused, I would fight. But that wasn’t what happened at all. I had been weak and let it happen to me. What she told me after is what initiated the healing process.

“Emilie, this was sexual abuse. And your reaction is normal, and it’s not because you have not been fully raped that your pain isn’t the same. But mostly, it is not your fault and you never were weak. There is nothing to be ashamed of.” And there it was, recognition of what had happened. I would have been the first one to say this exact same thing to any other victim. But somehow, when it happens to you, perception changes. There is no seeing it in a rational way.

From that day, I started to take my healing into my own hands. Slowly, I forced myself to face my fears. I started to hang out in groups again. I surrounded myself with wonderful people. I hitchhiked once more and replaced this bad memory with a happier one. I read self-help books, listened to positive audio-meditation, and wrote compulsively in my daily journal. I found a wonderful therapist to guide me into my healing journey. Most importantly, I talked about it, until I didn’t feel shame anymore.

And to you, Jack, I would like to say this: You are an a**hole, but I somehow feel sorry for you. You must be a really tortured soul to behave this way, and I wonder how hard it must be, to live with yourself every day. As much as I regret ever crossing paths with you, I am grateful for the awareness this experience gave me. Awareness and sensitivity to a massive and global problem for girls all around the world. My going braless and having tight pants on was not a sexual invitation to you; it was an invitation of comfort to myself. I didn’t, and no women will ever, owe you anything when it comes to sexuality. To you and all other abusers walking on this earth, I truly hope you find peace within yourself, so the world becomes a safer place for us to live.

And to women around the world, know that I understand what you are dealing with on a daily basis. When I started to share this with others, I found out that the majority had a similar story to share in return. To realize how common, it is was disturbing. A friend has to wash her own blood from the wall after being beaten by her husband. Another one was forced to look at herself in a mirror while being raped by her ex-boyfriend. One was abused for years as a child by her stepfather. Another woke up in the middle of the night while camping with a friend to find him inside her. And the list goes on and on.

To all of these women with a gloomy past, know that I am impressed by all of you. For being such powerful, resilient warriors, I honor you, and I’m inspired by your strength. And know that all this beauty, sensitivity, love, and light you are made of has not and will never be taken away from you. You are shining and inspiring beings, and eternally will be. Women of the world, stay forceful. I am standing—and will always stand—by you

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